Top Ten – Blues Albums
I’ve been a blues fan for as long as I can remember. I’ve heard many people (including musician friends) say “I don’t like the blues, they’re boring”. Well, I think they’re missing the point. Blues is all about the conviction, the pain, and the joy. If you don’t know it, you ain’t got ’em!
Here are my top ten favorite blues albums and some anecdotes:
1. BB King – Live at the Regal
2. BB King – Live at the Cook County Jail
3. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood
4. Albert King – Live Wire/Blues Power
5. Eric Clapton – From The Cradle
6. Robert Johnson – Complete Recordings/Box Set
7. Albert King/SRV – In Session
8. Coco Montoya – Ya Think I’d Know Bettter
9. T-Bone Walker – The Complete Capitol Recordings
10. Stevie Ray Vaughan – In Step
BB King – Live at the Regal (1964). Say no more. Commonly held as the greatest electric blues album ever made; you’d get no argument from me here. This is the real deal. Recorded in 1964 at the Regal in Chicago, this is BB at his prime. He is a masterful musician and entertainer. His voice and guitar licks have the soul of Gospel and the grit of the deep south in them. He has the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand, for the whole show. Is legendary too strong an adjective? I think not.
BB King – Live at the Cook County Jail (1970). If Live At the Regal is the greatest blues album in BB’s output, then this one has got to be right up there too. In fact, it supercedes “Regal” in some circles. BB King has always been a compassionate artist; playing benefits for jails and civic organizations. This has never been more evident then on this building. Before a live audience of inmate, The King of the Blues takes his message of pain, joy and love down to the people who need it most. The result is a joyful album that absolutely engages the listener. All of his classic hits are here: including what many call the best live version of “The Thrill Is Gone”. A definite must have.
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood (1985). Stevie Ray Vaughan was a hot unsigned Texas bluesman who had just played with David Bowie. Jackson Browne was impressed with him and gave him free studio time. Recorded in two days, Texas Flood as impressive of a blues debut as you’ll ever find. SRV’s guitar is raw and sweet (you can even hear the amp hum occasionally!), and the rhythm section of Layton and Shannon is tight and spacious. The blues world would never be the same. School time: Texas Flood, Pride and Joy, Lenny, etc.
Albert King – Live Wire/Blues Power (1968). Big Albert never seemed to quite get the widespread recognition that other bluesmen did, but his influence did spread far and wide. I had heard about this album from various people and interviews with some of my other favorite blues players. This was recorded at the Fillmore West in 1968, when Albert was booked alongside, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall, and Janis Joplin. Albert’s flying V guitar uncorks a mighty sting with some unbelieveable string bends and some of the sweetest saucy vibrato I’ve heard. Of note are “Blues At Sunrise” (where he milks each note for what it’s worth) and “Blues Power” where Albert shows everyone what it’s about!
Eric Clapton – From The Cradle (1992). This album (along with Journeyman) is my favorite Clapton album. He had always wanted to make a true electric blues album where he covered Muddy Watters, Freddie King etc. Here it is. Clapton’s singing has never been rawer (IMO), and there are solos on here that would galvanize iron. Cases in point: Five Long Years, and Groaning the Blues.
Robert Johnson – Box Set/Complete Recordings (1990/96). Robert Johnson recorded 29 songs in Dallas and San Antonio hotel rooms in the mid-1930s. These are the only existing document to an artist who would prove to be one of the most influential in his genre. Many make the case that if it weren’t for Robert Johnson we wouldn’t have John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, BB King, Buddy Guy, or any number of the modern greats. To many a listener, this is the blues. Plain and simple. Exemplars: Sweet Home Chicago, Crossroad Blues, Terraplane Blues, Hellhound On My Trail, Love In Vain, etc. This is the template.
Albert King/SRV – In Session (1999). This is a recording of a Canadian television broadcast circa 1983, where Stevie sits in with Albert’s band. The result is a really great album, where the mentor and mentee have a wonderful jam session. Intersperesed with great dialogue from both. Very, very enjoyable.
Coco Montoya – Ya Think I’d Know Better (1996). Albert Collins and John Mayall-alum Coco Montoya might be an unknown name to some. Let me just tell you right now, you’ve been missing out! Coco has been out on his own for the past 10 years or so, and knocking people dead with his fiery guitar and soulful tunes. Montoya successfully combines blues with rock, soul, R&B, country, and Cajun influences. For my money this is his best album but all of them are great. If he’s ever playing within driving distance of you, do not hesitate to go see him. You will not be disappointed.
T-Bone Walker – The Complete Capitol Recordings 1950-54 (1991) -If it wasn’t for T-Bone Walker, blues players would still be playing on acoustic guitars and washboards. He electrified the style; without him there would be no BB King, Chuck Berry, Albert King, Buddy Guy, SRV, Clapton or anyone else. He was smooth and blue like jazz, but gritty and soulful like the best of the blues. This 2-disc set captures the middle period of Walker’s output. Chestnuts found here: Glamour Girl, Blue Mood, and many more.
Stevie Ray Vaughan – In Step (1989) Sadly this would be Vaughan’s last studio album before his death in 1990. By this time, he had beaten drugs and alcohol, and his music was the better for it. Everything is strong here: the playing, the production, the singing, the songwriting, everything. With this album, Vaughan cemented his place among the greats as the standard bearer for the modern age of blues. There would be many imitators to follow in the years following In Step, but there will only be one Stevie Ray Vaughan.
John Mayall – Bluesbreakers with Clapton
Muddy Waters – His Best 1947-1955
Gary Moore – Blues Alive